Patient: Sunshine State
Profile: Interminable and muddled movie ostensibly about the rigors of family and the importance of place that turns out to really be about two and a half hours. I haven't seen anything this long and pointless since Shawn Bradley. Think The Neverending Story period. Symptoms: Sunshine State's writer/director John Sayles is responsible for such classics as The Brother From Another Planet, Passion Fishand The Secret of Roan Inish—great movies about family and place that are great because of the singular vision and voice of their writer/director. Sunshine State shows the dark side of the unchecked writer/director. The aforementioned films were notable for their razor-sharp, spare writing, their keen recognition that storytelling is as much about what you don't tell. Sunshine State tells everything . . . really, really slowly. But don't be fooled by the languid pace, there's actually way too much going on here: pyromaniac teens, old-coot crusaders, fallen women, fallen heroes, dying towns, dying families, development, race and nary a plot point (thanks for that, Sid Field!) between 'em. Race is mentioned and then jettisoned. There's a running joke about suicide, and the magnificent Mary Steenburgen plays a faded, jaded Southern Belle for the umpteenth time, and we, as we did during our high school dating days, kept waiting and hoping for some kind of payoff that never came (thanks for nothing, ladies!).
Script Doctor Diagnosis: Nothing happens because there's too much happening. Prescription: Sayles should take another gander at Passion Fish; similarly set in the South with multiple story lines, Passion filters the plot through a main character, giving the story boundaries and structure in which to operate. In Sunshine State, that single main character should be Marly, played by Edie Falco. Marly is the most interesting person in the film, with the greatest possibility for growth and loss. She's the one who seems closest to the land and whose job as innkeeper naturally brings her in contact with a wide range of other characters. You're going to have to get rid of a good deal of the others—Angela Bassett's Desiree for one, whose whole story line seems like an entirely different movie. As for bit players such as Steenburgen, remember, the kids in the chorus are not allowed to the front of the stage. Let them say their piece in a single scene for comic effect or exposition and then shush them off. Cut the movie to about an hour and 45, have less plot lines and more action. And, you know, it wouldn't kill you to hire an editor to check yourself. Sure, most of them are two-faced syphilitics named Matt, but like the parasitic fish that attach themselves to bigger, more talented fish, they do serve a purpose, the talentless fucks.